I’ve been musing again about why it is so difficult to get managers to understand how HR should work or why they should care. As proven in some very successful organizations it literally multiplies financial and productivity results by more than 3 to 10 times. So what’s the problem?
Then I came on this blog post by Paul Herbert: I Love Forced Rankings. Since Jack Welch has recanted on this theory that the bottom 10% should be identified each year… and then fired… forced rankings have lost favor in most operations. But as this article shows, there are always two or more schools of thought about any given HR practice. Human resources isn’t a cut and dried series of principles that you simply apply. It has to be tailored to your culture and situations.
The problem arises when you recognize that managers and cultures aren’t fixed in stone. Let’s say a company follows Herbert’s advice and institutes forced ranking to help encourage judgments between good and unproductive employees. That information can then be used to reward the good and coach or redevelop the unproductive and that may be the original intent, but as surely as grass is green, some manager will take this the opposite way and punish the unproductive while simply taking the top performers for granted.
Either way, we want managers to reward and react to performance. Many don’t. They simply sail on with the status quo and duck managing performance at all. The hardest hurdle seems to be to get them in general to apply judgment case by case rather than use rule of thumb systems like "let’s use forced ranking" as if this alone would solve the problem. It isn’t the process, it’s the assumptions about it, good or bad, which so many apply without the least bit of understanding about what the impact will be on actual people.
Is it any wonder that senior management has trouble buying into any given HR policy when there are such widely varying interpretations and uses of them? If only the core keys were understood, I believe, that problem could be resolved. The fact it hasn’t been in several millennia suggests it isn’t as easy as I think it should be, though.